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Teri L. Jackson

State superior court judge and county attorney Teri L. Jackson was born in 1957 to Beatrice and Alson Jackson in Berkeley, California, where she grew up with her sister, Portia Collins. After watching the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, she developed an interest in the justice system. Jackson graduated from Jefferson High School at the age of sixteen and began her studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she earned her B.A. degrees in politics and history in 1977. She then went on to earn her J.D. degree from Georgetown University Law School in 1980.

Upon passing her bar exam, Jackson was hired as a deputy district attorney of San Mateo County, where she works as a trial attorney. Three years later, she began work as a prosecutor for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, serving in the domestic violence unit, the felony charging unit, and the felony sexual assault unit. Throughout her career, Jackson has worked to combat domestic abuse in the Bay Area. In 1988, she became the first person to successfully introduce expert testimony regarding elder abuse syndrome in a court case. In 1995, she co-founded the First Offender Prostitution Program (FOPP), a rehabilitation course for individuals arrested for their involvement with prostitution. The program was replicated in other American cities within years of its founding. Jackson became the first woman to head up a homicide unit in the state of California upon her promotion to head district attorney’s homicide unit in 1997.

After working in private practice with the law firm, of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP, Jackson was appointed to Superior Court Judge of California for the County of San Francisco in 2002. She was the first African American woman to serve in this position. She worked with an assortment of cases, including litigation in employment, trade secrets, the environment, real estate, and bankruptcy. Jackson has worked to increase the number of minorities working within the legal system, serving as an adjunct law professor at Hastings School of Law. Jackson is the recipient of the 2006 Rosina Tucker Award from the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the 2007 Community Service Award from the National Council of Negro Women, Inc.

Jackson is married to Imro Shair-Ali.

Teri L. Jackson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 6, 2011.

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University of California Santa Cruz

Georgetown University Law Center

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If you disagree with me, take me out.

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Bay Area/San Francisco


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Short Description

State superior court judge and county attorney Teri L. Jackson (1956 - ) was the first African American woman appointed to Superior Court Judge of California for the County of San Francisco.


University of California, San Francisco Hastings School of Law

County of San Francisco

University of San Francisco School of Law

Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, LLP, San Francisco

Office of the San Francisco District Attorney, San Francisco

San Francisco Law School

Office of the San Mateo District Attorney

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Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Teri Jackson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Teri Jackson talks about her mother's side of the family

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Teri Jackson talks about her father's side of the family

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Teri Jackson discusses her parents' upbringing and early adult lives

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Teri Jackson discusses her parents' marriage and decision to move to San Francisco, California

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Teri Jackson talks about her father's disposition and aspirations for his children

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Teri Jackson talks about her childhood and earliest memories

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Teri Jackson talks about religion and early childhood influences

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Teri Jackson talks about her early education

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Teri Jackson discusses her early exposure to the legal profession

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Teri Jackson talks about her school experience

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Teri Jackson discusses early experiences with racism

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Teri Jackson talks about recognizing a hurtful person from her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Teri Jackson talks about her junior high school experience during the 1960s

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Teri Jackson discusses her parents' reactions to the Civil Rights Movement and Student Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Teri Jackson talks about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Teri Jackson discusses her heroes

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Teri Jackson talks about her evolving views and extracurricular activities in high school

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Teri Jackson discusses choosing a legal specialization, her early legal influences and choosing a college

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Teri Jackson describes her experience attending the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the important world events of 1973

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Teri Jackson talks about choosing a law school and her experience attending Georgetown Law School

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Teri Jackson talks about her work as a Deputy District Attorney in San Mateo County, California

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Teri Jackson describes the challenges she faced as an African American female Deputy District Attorney

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Teri Jackson discusses her work with the San Francisco District Attorney's Office and domestic violence cases

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Teri Jackson discusses prosecuting elder abuse cases and developments in domestic violence laws

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Teri Jackson discusses her opinions of the O.J. Simpson trial

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Teri Jackson talks about her most significant cases as an Assistant District Attorney

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Teri Jackson discusses being appointed to a judgeship of the Superior Court of California

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Teri Jackson talks about her experience as a judge and her judicial approach

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Teri Jackson talks about memorable cases she has tried as a Superior Court Judge

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Teri Jackson describes the impact of presiding over criminal court cases

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Teri Jackson talks about the dangers of being a judge and her judicial philosophy

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Teri Jackson discusses her career activities and accomplishments

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Teri Jackson gives advice to future lawyers

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Teri Jackson discusses her hopes for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Teri Jackson reflects on her career and legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Teri Jackson talks about African American bar associations

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Teri Jackson talks about her family and how she would like to be remembered







Teri Jackson talks about her father's disposition and aspirations for his children
Teri Jackson discusses her work with the San Francisco District Attorney's Office and domestic violence cases
So did he have relatives out here already?$$No, it was just kind of the thing, it was the black migration from the South. Let me back up a little bit too. My dad [Alson Jackson] came back with his brothers and a lot of them from World War II. My father talked about growing up in the south and his relatives said he had to leave. Cause they didn't think my father was going to live. My father was a very outspoken man. And the, the segregation--I mean this is, if you can think of something worse than Jim Crow. That--we were talking about Louisiana and during the time of my father's and my mom's upbringing. And Daddy often told me the story when he, when he went off to college, he didn't think that white people could be just. Because what he had experienced being a young African American man in the south. And he went to Southern [University, Louisiana] and one of the first classes, it was a literature class, and he read this book by this as he said, a great author, William Shakespeare. And the first story he read out of William Shakespeare was the 'Merchant of Venice'. And then he realized that not all white people were wrong or bad. He realized that there was always a struggle for good and evil and that his experience in Louisiana should not reflect on everybody. And another thing that Daddy learned from that book of the 'Merchant of Venice', is that there was a woman lawyer named Portia. And he said if he should ever have a daughter, she was going to be named Portia and she was going to be a lawyer. Now you look at my name, it's Teri. My older sister is named Portia. And my father always had plans. Survive World War II, take his education and to become a teacher, marry the homecoming queen, have a daughter, name her Portia, she would become a lawyer and she would fight for justice. Well he survived World War II, he did get his degree from Southern. But his Southern [University] education because it was from a black college, did not translate for him to be a teacher in California. And the only way he could be a teacher and to realize his dream to teach geography, was to go back and do another four years and my father said no. He was a very proud man. His degree in his mind was just as good as anybody else's. So he did not fulfill that part of the dream, but he did marry the homecoming queen, he did have a daughter named Portia, and Portia hated law. And my name Teri, is named after my sister's imaginary friend. She was four years old, she could spell Teri with to Rs, and I became the lawyer. And it, it was very interesting because my father did everything to make, to encourage my sister Portia to be a lawyer. My mother was on this master plan. Once my father said I want to do this, my mom [Beatrice Jackson] was the implementer, implementer. So what my mom would do was have Portia sit down and watch all the Perry Mason shows, the "Young Defenders", anything that had anything to do with law, they wanted--they put that poor little child in front of the TV set and made her watch TV that dealt with lawyers. She would--they would not allow her to watch "Dennis the Menace" because they said she was so bad, that she didn't--they didn't want her to get ideas. So it didn't work. I was born, not that I was an afterthought, but the whole focus was Portia to become a lawyer. And then the movie came out 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. My father and mother had this plan that okay, we're going to take Portia off to go see this movie 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and she'll realize her destiny. They couldn't find a babysitter for me cause I was about four or five years old when the movie came out. But they assumed that I would go to the movie, fall asleep and Portia would realize her destiny. Portia fell asleep, I watched the movie, I walked out of the theater and my mom said that I looked up at my dad and mom and said I want to be Atticus Fench. I want to be a lawyer, and I want to fight for justice. And the rest was history. And my--$$How old were you$$About four or five years old.$$Four or five.$$And I wanted--I saw an injustice. A man wrongly accused, a man wrongly convicted and ultimately died for something he didn't do. And I wanted to be a part of a system where I could make a difference. And what struck me most was--there were two scenes that struck me most about "To Kill a Mockingbird". Was when Atticus Fench walked out of the courtroom and everyone stood up who--in the balcony. And I remember those balconies when I would go down and visit my relatives in Louisiana when we would go to the movie theaters and we would have to go to the balcony. I remember that vividly. But when the minister turned to Scout and said stand because a great man is walking by, because he made an impact on these people. Another thing that was always in his, in my mind ever since I saw that movie was when the judge read the verdict, or the verdict was read and the judge stormed off the bench and slammed the door. I remember saying to my mom, why couldn't that judge--he is the judge, why couldn't he do something? Why did he just walk off the bench? He knew it was wrong. I was able to pick that up. And that has always been my guiding force of why I wanted to be a lawyer, and I guess ultimately to be a judge.$Okay now San Francisco, District Attorney's Office, 1984, okay. Okay now you were recruited?$$I was recruited by Arlo Smith. He wanted, he knew my interest in domestic violence cases, and the laws were just start--there were--I shouldn't even say laws. There was an awareness that these cases should be treated like crimes, like every other crime, and that this is not something that happens between two loving, consenting adults. It is something that needed to be dealt with and it was a big, passionate interest of mine.$$Let me ask you this: And I don't know how this plays out in the Bay area [California], but in Chicago [Illinois] there's a, a women's organization called Southwest Women Working Together. It was formed around the issue of domestic violence. It was formed by the wives of Chicago Police Officers.$$Interesting.$$Yes, who themselves were--$$Victims of domestic violence.$$Yes. That was (unclear) actually stuck, you know, and stayed in existence. It still exists.$$Well the organization here in San Francisco and that's the Family Violence Prevention Fund, many of those women were either victims of domestic--when I say victims, but their partner or spouse was battering them, or they grew up in domestic violence environments. And so that's what started here in San Francisco and became nationally recognized. And there were a group of us. One now is the DA [District Attorney] over in Alameda County, [California] Nancy O'Malley. There was a woman by the name of Pierce who's a DA, and she still is down here in Santa Clara [California]. And several people in southern California. We were kind of the California advocates as prosecutors in the area of domestic violence and domestic violence prevention. And I'm very proud of many of the laws that are here in California, I was involved in them. Testifying, writing them, implementing them, teaching. When the Violence Against Women Act took place, I was called upon to lecture around the country in how to effect prosecution and how to set up a Domestic Violence Unit in various DAs offices. And I do a lot of training with the police departments all over the country.$$Okay. How did things change?$$Oh, God.$$--the training and the laws.$$When I first--this is how even though my court that I sit on, and a judge who was well respected, who's now since passed. When domestic violence cases, when we were taking an active, you know, had a unit and we were pursuing these cases, I'll never--and it would take a great deal to convince a person of domestic violence to come and testify. To testify against this person who you've entrusted your life with, who you've shared a bed with, meals and so forth and sacrificed for. And now you're testimony may, I won't say responsible, but it will have a factor in whether or not this person goes to prison or not. And so it took a lot. Very fragile souls. And I'll never forget I just got this woman convinced to come in, in fact I, I used to go and pick them up and bring them to court. And she was crying. And I had to get--and she was just composed and I said don't worry. We're in there, the court, judges, we're going to all be there to protect you. Just tell the truth. So here she is, she's a little behind me. And I'll never forget the judge yells out, courtroom full of people, "Oh here comes Teri Jackson and her debutant." That was the attitude when we first started prosecuting domestic violence cases. Judges hated it. And I'll never forget another judge said if two adult people want to beat their brains out at their home, why do we need our criminal justice system involved? So when you're telling me that the domestic violence awareness and the organization started in Chicago by women who were officers of domestic violence, I am not surprised. Because people felt that when an officer arrives on the scene, just take that battering partner out of the house, walk him around the block, and bring him back home. Walking that person around the block only meant you're sobering him up, so therefore he can hit her more, you know. So I'm very happy that we made it a recognized crime. It's always been a crime, but a recognized crime. And we've even gone one step further. California was one of the first to acknowledge domestic violence partners, same sex partners. That this is just as prevalent in same sex relationships as in heterosexual relationships. And I'm very proud that we were able to get a voice for those who are in those battering or troubling situations.$$So it really changed the attitude, I mean police can no longer say that someone being battered or beaten to a pulp in their house is okay as long as somebody, they're married to or going with is doing this to them?$$Oh, yeah. To get that--and not only the police get, society get the courts. I mean I remember my first jury trial. There is no question. You know, here are the photographs, just getting jurors convinced that this is a crime, and get them to talk about it. And you know now, more and more people are forthcoming and said I grew up in a household of domestic violence, or I have heard of it. People didn't talk about that in '84 [1984]. You know I had a case where the young lady said the reason I didn't report it because I saw my mother being beaten, I saw my grandmother being beaten. I just thought it was a way of life. I've also when I was a prosecutor, saw the consequences of children growing up in households of domestic violence. Had a very unfortunate case where this young kid saw his mother being beaten, not by one, but by several men in her life. But the last one, this one, this child trusted this man cause he had been in his life the longest. And he turned around and beat, had beaten his mother and he was only 11 years old. He felt helpless. The man was convicted and this child would go and visit him in, in prison. And it only--what happened was this child then turned eighteen and he was only visiting him, this batterer, the one, last one who had battered his mother in prison just to keep tabs on him. And on the first day that the man was released, this child had him come to a certain location in San Francisco and had ambushed him and killed him. And that is the impact. This child felt, and I remember in his interview, watching his tape, he said I was helpless, I couldn't help my mother and now I could. But it was the wrong way.$$Yeah this is a serious matter, domestic violence. So, so what are the--what do you think is the most significant legislation or action that you took part in?